Bill Cosby paid $3.4m to silence woman he had sexually assaulted, prosecutor says

Bill Cosby paid $3.4m to buy the silence of a young woman he had previously drugged and then sexually assaulted, a prosecutor alleged on Monday as the comedian’s retrial got underway in Pennsylvania in the first major courtroom drama of the #MeToo era.

Kevin Steele, the district attorney for Cosby’s home county of Montgomery, revealed a secret that has remained hidden for the past 12 years – the amount of money that the TV star formerly known as “America’s Dad” was prepared to pay to keep his detractor quiet. The $3.4m was allegedly paid in 2006 to Andrea Constand, a Canadian massage therapist, to bring to a close a civil suit she had brought against him claiming he had persuaded her to take relaxant drugs before molesting her while she was unconscious.

The disclosure of the settlement amount came in Steele’s opening statement to the jury in Montgomery county court of common please in Norristown, a small, run-down Pennsylvania community struggling from industrial decline. For the second time in 10 months the town has become inundated with media and protesters drawn to the trial of one of America’s most famous – and once beloved – comedians.

Before the trial proper began, the courthouse was momentarily engulfed in drama of another sort: a black female protester who ran towards the entrance of the building topless, with “Women’s Lives Matter” scrawled in red paint across her chest. Nicolle Rochelle, 39, had appeared on several episodes of The Cosby Show when she was a teenager, but now was streaking in solidarity, she said, with the star’s victims.

In his summary of the prosecution case that will now unfold, Steele said: “This case is about a betrayal leading to a sexual assault of Andrea Constand,” before describing the process in which Cosby allegedly drugged his guest before assaulting her.

“The defendant goes upstairs in his house in Cheltenham and then comes down and he’s holding three blue pills. And when he does that he says these words about the pills: ‘These are your friends. I have three friends for you to make you relax’.”

There is much riding on the outcome of the case for Cosby. He faces three charges of aggravated indecent assault relating to the alleged assault of Constand in 2004, and with each count carrying a sentence of up to 10 years imprisonment, a guilty verdict could see the 80-year-old spend the rest of his natural life behind bars.

His first trial collapsed last June after the jury was unable to reach a verdict. But since then more than 50 women have come forward publicly to accuse him of sexual assault, many in strikingly similar terms involving him doping them with drugs.

The interim period between his initial trial and Monday’s retrial has also seen the birth of the #MeToo movement that erupted on social media and exposed numerous cases of alleged sexual harassment and assault in Hollywood, politics, the media and many other walks of life. How the Cosby case fares in Norristown could have powerful ramifications for other potential prosecutions across the nation.

Steele encouraged the jury to avoid falling into a “he said, she said” confusion by considering how similar Constand’s account of events was to other evidence that will be presented to the court in the course of the retrial. Other female witnesses would be called, he said, giving testimony that they were drugged and molested in very similar ways.

The prosecutor also pointed to testimony that Cosby himself gave under oath in 2006 in a deposition to lawyers in the civil suit with Constand. “When this happened with Andrea Constand there was no mistake. When somebody is drugged, they do not have the ability to consent, he takes that away,” the district attorney said.

Steele highlighted Cosby’s comments in the deposition that he had given Constand one and a half pills to help her “relax”. The prosecutor also emphasized that the comic had himself admitted to “digital penetration” of Constand, while insisting that the sexual encounter was consensual.

Steele concluded: “Andrea Constand did not consent to penetration. She will tell you that she did not say ‘Yes’. We all know that’s the woman’s right.”

Cosby’s defense lawyer, Tom Mesereau, is set to deliver his opening remarks to the jury on Tuesday morning. The white-haired Hollywood attorney is soft-spoken, but has a formidable track record in pulling off legal surprises such as the 2005 acquittal of Michael Jackson on child-molestation charges.

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